Recently I received an urgent plea from Mike, a young investment banker in New York.
Mike had just graduated with his BA in financial economics from Columbia University. Having read my review of Kevin Roose’s Young Money, he knew that investment banking meant 100 hour work weeks, acidic professional environments, and often working for the kinds of banks that Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone in 2009 called, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Mike knew he needed to prepare spiritually before jumping into a position even as a junior analyst. Before he started his job, he wrote me in an email, “I’m taking advantage of this in-between phase to search for ways to sustain some semblance of a devotional rhythm once my time becomes exceptionally scarce in the near future.”
Mike then confessed the reason for reaching out to me. With utter humility, he wrote, “I’ve been on the hunt for someone, anyone, whether a notable figure or otherwise, who is a force in their craft and who lives a purposeful life of working to usher in the fullness of God’s kingdom in the financial capital of the world so that I can emulate their practices.” Mike was searching for a guide, whether in history or alive today, who could help him navigate through the treacherous waters of a soul-suffocating industry — and leverage capital markets as a force for good.
But after searching for books on Christianity and investment banking, he came up empty-handed. “Nearly all of my own personal discipleship has come from books,” Mike confessed. “I just haven’t had many great leaders in my life (until recently)—so I was tempted to think that I’d find someone who has written something. My approach hasn’t worked.”
After I read that line, my heart sank.
Here Mike had the foresight to see that work isn’t morally neutral, and that working in his industry will present both deep temptations as well as opportunities. And so he searched for mentors who could guide him. But he found none.
He felt alone.
Mike then concluded by saying, “The last line in your review says ‘perhaps it’s time for more Christians to head straight into finance,’ which I obviously agree with. But where will industry relevant discipleship come from when we get there? If you have any resources for me, I would hugely appreciate them.”
After I read this email from Mike this past fall, I felt a resolute conviction to finish building the 5280 Fellowship.
Mike was humble and wise enough to reach out for wisdom on how live out his faith in his work — but he also was isolated from those who could speak truth into his profession. Depending on that path he takes moving forward, he could either leverage billions of dollars of capital to fuel healthy businesses and bless communities around the world — or end up a disillusioned, exhausted, depressed spreadsheet jockey who measures his personal value as a human being in dollar figures. The decisions he makes about his work life will affect him forever.
The 5280 Fellowship won’t be a silver bullet for all our working woes. But I think it can provide young professionals like Mike a broader theology that touches even investment banking; a community of discernment focused on morally thorny professional issues; a network of like-minded friends working in diverse sectors across the city; practical way to engage the hard issues of our city; and a disposition to listen to God’s voice in the midst of trials.
Mike is taking a noble path. He’s chosen neither retreat (condemning a “godless, money-obsessed” industry), nor accommodation (adopting the prevailing secular values of his profession). He’s headed straight into the darknesses as a bearer of light (Matt. 5:14). After I read his email, I couldn’t help but admire his courage.
I think it’s time we joined him and started journeying this path together.
This post first appeared at jeffhaanen.com.
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This post was published February 29, 2016
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.